Decas Cranberry Products Inc.
After eight decades, Decas Cranberry Products Inc. (Decas) remains a family-owned and -operated business. Based in Carver, Mass., the company now handles more than 60 million pounds of the tart Burgundy-colored berries a year, selling and distributing to 25 countries worldwide. Decas’ state-of-the-art processing facilities pump out a full line of cranberry products, from cranberry concentrate to sweetened dried berries and fresh, whole fruit.
A Family Farming Tradition
Decas’ operation started in 1934 with brothers Nicholas, Charles and William Decas. The three brothers emigrated from Greece, leaving their large family for Massachusetts and a small piece of land.
“They purchased a cranberry bog and were some of the first in the 1940s to bag cranberries for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P, a well-established supermarket chain,” recalls John C. Decas, owner and former CEO of Decas. “The brothers purchased packaging equipment with guidance and help from A&P and they also peddled the berries themselves and started signing up more bogs.”
Shortly after, Decas began producing and packaging berries on a large scale, contracting with other growers to handle cranberries. “We ended up signing a contract with a canning company for cranberry sauce in the 1940s,” reveals John.
John, who studied agriculture at the University of Massachusetts, is an industry veteran and has been continuing the Decas family tradition. “When my cousin, John N. Decas, passed away in 1991, I took over managing and marketing,” he shares.
Improving the SDC
Over the years, John and the Decas team began to steadily move from just fresh berries to sweetened dried cranberries (SDC). “We have invested a great deal into the research and development of this product,” adds John. “We came up with a process that produces a SDC that is second to none in terms of product taste, texture and quality.”
Decas built a receiving station in 1996 and a cranberry production facility two years later to meet the demand, allowing the company to produce 5 million pounds of SDC annually. “We have added to the plant gradually over the years and it now has the capacity to process 27 to 30 million pounds of SDC per year,” reveals John. “We are one of only two SDC producers that process large amounts of organic cranberries, which are in high demand currently.”
More recently, after nearly 25 years in the industry, John has semi-retired, passing his leadership position over to Chuck Dillon, current CEO of Decas. “I’ve been with the company for four years,” notes Chuck. “I was brought in to help bring Decas to another platform and continue its 79-year existence. We have experienced many challenges along the way, but right now we’re in a good place to grow from.”
A Big Berry Evolution
While the Decas family started out as farmers and remains rooted in the tradition, Chuck says the company has evolved tremendously over the years. “We have our own 450 acres of family-owned bogs throughout Massachusetts,” he shares. “Unlike other crops – where you can switch from corn to wheat to soybeans – once you plant a cranberry bog that’s what you stick with. It’s few and far between for farmers to switch from cranberries to another commodity crop. But Decas has progressed past farming, into processing, cleaning, remanufacturing and marketing of the product itself; that’s the evolution of this company.”
What started with three brothers and a small piece of land has transformed into some 200 employees and distribution throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. “We have established great supplier relationships up and down the chain to go seamlessly from the bog to market,” notes Chuck.
With global distribution channels, Chuck says Decas is looking forward to new products that remain grounded in the organic, healthy, better-berry mindset that has made the company what it is today. “We continue to innovate. We’ve introduced products like Funny Face to the children sector,” he shares. “This product is a value-added dried cranberry that has half the sugar of a raisin and five times the amount of fiber, but kids have no idea that it’s so healthy. It really tastes great.”
The team is also enhancing the natural benefits of the cranberry with increased omega-3 levels obtained from pressing the seeds for concentrated cranberry seed oil. “It’s a time extensive process, but we’re the only ones I know of pressing seeds to add more value and nutrients to the product,” Chuck continues.
New successful products or not, Chuck and John agree that running a farm, and a family-owned one at that, is challenging at times. “When there’s a surplus, the price is driven down and right now there’s a huge surplus with the enormous cranberry farm expansion taking place in Canada,” explains John. “Canada is a huge industry player in the cranberry business. They have government assistance programs and new hybrid varieties.”
But despite competition from its northern neighbors, Chuck says Decas has stayed in the game by continuously reinventing itself. “We have done well over the years transitioning to new products – from fresh to sweet and dried and extracts – and discovering new distribution channels,” he adds. “You have to stay ahead of the curve and remake yourself year after year in this market.”
Decas remains first and foremost a family business with deep ties to the community it has been a part of for the past 79 years. The company is a large supporter of a variety of community activities and organizations, from the local YMCA to regional food banks. Decas Cranberry Products Inc. continues to be a good neighbor, supporting the community and growers backed by three generations of family ownership.